With all the focus on graphics, sound effects, 1080p this and AI that, one of the most often overlooked aspects to truly great game design is the music.
While a great score can't make a great game, a great game can be made epic by a great score. Take these five games, for example. Amazing games, amazing music. So good, in fact, you coan enjoy the music without ever having played the game.
Big. Saving the galaxy isn't something that can be done on a small scale. BioWare's epic is big-budget entertainment in the best sense, and the score doesn't disappoint. Written primarily by Jack Wall and Sam Hulick with additional music by Richard Jacques and David Kates, the score combines electronic sounds with traditional orchestral instruments for the grand-scale music like the best big-budget Hollywood provides. The fact that you can get these scores on CD and iTunes speaks to their quality and listenability outside of a game.
4) Interstate '76 (1997, PC)
While not the first game to have great music, Interstate '76 was one of the first to have music you wouldn't think of as "video game" music. It was definitely the first to have groove. It was so good, at first it seems like a lost funk album from the 70's, repurposed in a game. Arion Salazar wrote the whole thing, a far cooler mark on the music world than anything he'd do later in his band Third Eye Blind. But forget all that. Check out this video for 1 minute of funk, baby. Dig.
3) Super Mario Bros. (1985, NES)
Answer me this; is there any gamer you know who can't hum a few bars of Koji Kondo's immortal theme? Enough said. This video is the Boston Symphony Orchestra doing the 8-bit original absolute justice.
2) Tron 2.0 (2003; Xbox, PC, Mac, GBA)
Until those first blurry, shaky videos came out of Comic-Con in 2008 hinting that there would, after nearly 30 years, be a real sequel to Tron, the best fans had was this game. Thankfully, it didn't disappoint. While initially buggy, Tron 2.0 actually did a solid job recreating the Tron world. Even better, composer Wendy Carlos was brought back not to recreate her score for the original, but create an entirely new one. The result is brilliant. A mixture of the old and the new. Hints of the original, but with modern flourishes. The video above is the opening scene and opening credits, with just one track from Carlos's driving score. Fast forward to 2:00 for the start of the music.
We can only hope the new movie is as good as this game. The score is being done by the only people alive that could top Wendy Carlos as composer for it: Daft Punk.
1) Homeworld (1999; PC, Mac)
Paul Ruskay's ambient score for Homeworld is the pinnicle of what music can do for a game. It starts with the brilliant use of "Agnus Dei," the choral version of Barber's "Adagio for Strings" in the opening cutscene. From there, the largely ambient score gives weight and breadth to the gorgeous visuals. The music creates the perfect mood, enveloping you in the expanse and desolation so perfectly crafted in the gameplay. Excellence.